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Disingenuous Puppeteers

An Open Letter to the Organizers of Jiang's Visit to Harvard

By Yawen Cheng and Hsph; Spokesperson

Any effort to impose an institutional orthodoxy, in this context as in others, would be inimical to our central values. President Neil L. Rudenstine, Harvard University Gazette, Oct. 30,1997

As members of the Harvard community involved in the preparation of the protest rally at the occasion of Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit on Nov. 1, we are responding publicly to the Harvard organizers of Jiang's visit. We have confined our comments to the following nine topics:

1) Invitation: Jiang's visit to the University was arranged by the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, directed by Professor Ezra F. Vogel and executive director Deirdre Chetham. An official invitation was sent in 1996 by Rudenstine because of the high-level nature of the visit. It is very disturbing that the University extended such a high-profile invitation in Harvard's name without first consulting the community--in particular, Chinese exiles, Tibetans and Taiwanese. Moreover, welcoming the head of a regime that suppresses free speech under the banner of free speech is ridiculous. The University provided just what the Chinese delegation would have desired: the setting for propaganda photos of Jiang speaking behind the veritas emblem (see The China Press, Nov. 3).

Before the visit, Vogel wrote in The Crimson (Letter to the Editors, Oct. 23) that during the Tiananmen incident Jiang was the mayor of Shanghai, where he allowed the demonstrations to take place peacefully. This is a very obvious disinformation. Jiang cleaned up Shanghai by silencing the 1989 pro-democracy movements in advance. He was then summoned to Beijing two weeks before the June 4 Massacre and 20 days after the Massacre, he assumed the post of the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Vogel's letter is clearly written in the propaganda style of communist regimes. Furthermore, after Jiang's speech, the Fairbank Center put unnecessary emphasis on his circuitous and vague remark about "mistakes"--in effect trying to justify the visit a posteriori.

2) Screening of questions: Rudenstine, in his introduction of Jiang at Sanders Theatre declared: "[The] best path toward achieving such understanding is through freedom of inquiry, and freedom of expression--in our universities and in our larger societies." These words come as a slap in the face, knowing that the University decided to screen questions to Jiang. We are deeply concerned that this decision is in direct conflict with academic standards of free inquiry and free expression.

The screening committee (Vogel, Professor of History William C. Kirby, Reischauer Professor of Japanese Studies Susan J. Pharr and Curator of the Nieman Fellowships William Kovach) selected two very obvious questions that were repeatedly asked of Jiang during his tour of the United States. The full list of questions submitted to the committee has not yet been released by the Fairbank Center, contrary to its prior announcement.

3) Ticket distribution: The decision to hold the speech in Sanders Theatre was not appropriate. The auditorium is split into two areas (mezzanine and balcony) that cannot see and hear each other. In particular, the press in the mezzanine could not see what was happening in the balcony. The lottery procedure was biased, far from random. According to The Crimson (Oct. 23), more than 1,100 members of the Harvard community entered the lottery for about 500 to 600 seats. Out of 34 Harvard students who participated in organizing the protest rally,19 took part in the lottery (the others mostly missed the early deadline on Oct. 16). The seven who got tickets are not members of any groups that supported the rally (e.g. Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Association of Boston, Joint Committee for Protesting Jiang Zemin's Visit to Harvard, Harvard University Taiwan Study Club, Kennedy School of Goveernment Alliance for Freedom and Democracy). The 12 who didn't get tickets are members of or spokespeople for these groups. The probability of such a pattern occurring purely by chance is approximately one in 300,000.

While the deadline for entering the lottery was Oct. 16, the lottery results were released very late, on the night of Oct. 29. That afternoon, the Coalition for Freedom and Human Rights in Asia, the organizer of the protest rally, held a press conference laying out its plans (see The Crimson, Oct. 30). During Jiang's speech there were many free seats inside Sanders Theatre. This was clearly embarrassing for the Fairbank Center organizers. As a result, ushers were asked to sit in the most obvious gaps in an attempt to cover up the failed ticket distribution system.

4) Failure to communicate with protest rally organizers: The protest rally organizers had an agreement with Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III that the rally could take place in the area between the Science Center, Harvard Yard and Oxford St. This area was subsequently closed down by Harvard. The change was announced to the rally organizers on the last day before the visit (Oct. 31). At that stage, the rally was fully prepared, flyers were printed and broadly distributed. Epps claims he learned about the shutdown on Thursday, Oct. 30 at a meeting around 11 a.m. According to his statement to The Crimson (Nov. 5), he "tried to contact the organizers on Thursday to discuss the change, but could not contact them." This statement is as far from truth as it could be. During that day Epps didn't return calls from organizers. He couldn't even see them where they walked in during his office hours. Later that day, he spoke to one of the main organizers without ever mentioning the change in location.

The map of the Memorial Hall region with closed areas marked off was released on Thursday morning in the Harvard University Gazette, which had a deadline for the map on Wednesday evening. It was compiled by Gazette editor John Lenger and Director of the News Office Joe Wrinn based on information from the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) and other unnamed sources. The HUPD, unlike the Cambridge and even Boston Police, avoided contact with the rally organizers both before and after Saturday Nov. 1. Moreover, even after the rally, members of the University administration have been referring all our inquiries to HUPD Chief Francis D. "Bud" Riley, who was "on leave" from Nov. 4 to Nov, 11.

5) Ousting protest from campus during Jiang's visit: Not only was the planned protest area closed, but the only alternative campus area offered by Harvard was William James Hall--far from Memorial Hall and far from the route of Jiang's motorcade. The rally preferred to retreat to the area of the Swedenborg Chapel, which faces Memorial Hall. Although the church grounds are private, non-Harvard property, Epps took the time and effort to come over during the rally and personally harass the owners. There was also a least one instance in which a protester with a valid Harvard identification was denied access to Harvard Yard by an HUPD officer, contrary to the announced rules.

6) Providing ground on campus for Jiang supporters: While the protest rally was whisked off campus, Jiang supporters were whisked in Chinese children from Cambridge schools were hidden inside Gund Hall and poured out to welcome Jiang when the motorcade approached This area was officially accessible only to ticket holders.

Epps explained that this action was organized a few weeks in advance by the "Chinese Association of Boston," the Chinese embassy and others. They originally wanted to have the children in front of the entrance to Memorial Hall. Epps says Harvard thought this would be "unfair" and as a "compromise" offered them the officially closed territory of Gund Hall. What remains puzzling is why Harvard had to reach a compromise with these groups against its own proclaimed rules.

A further point that most commentators missed: the crowds of Jiang supporters were centrally organized (even nicely numbered), while the protest rally was spontaneous and cooperative. Comparing the two sides is comparing apples and oranges.

7) Freedom of expression violated inside Sanders Theatre: According to an information sheet provided to ticket holders by the Fairbank Center, posters and banners were forbidden inside Sanders Theatre. This is a blatant violation of freedom of expression, as banners and posters do not pose a security risk.

The sheet goes on to threaten: "Disruptions will be treated seriously and may result in expulsion from the meeting, disciplinary action or arrest by civil authorities." This statement constitutes nothing less than plain totalitarian scare tactics.

The mock question-and-answer period preceding the arrival of the Chinese delegation (with Fairbank affiliates Professor of Chinese History Peter K. Bol, Kirby, Boston University Professor Merle Goldman, Vogel and non-Fairbank Elizabeth Perry) was in particularly poor taste.

After the speech and two pre-selected questions, when the floor was opened for a single question from the audience to Jiang, Vogel silenced a questioner asking about a political prisoner. Instead he took a question from a Newsweek reporter about Jiang's reaction to the protests, another typical question he had been receiving during his visit,

8) Discrimination based on nationality: While opening the floor for the question, Vogel proclaimed: "President Jiang Zemin has said that he would like to hear, first of all, from an American, and so...This is for an American audience." These words were spoken in an auditorium full of non- Americans, in the face of Rudenstine--with no reaction on his part.

9) Petition: A petition addressed to Rudenstine to be handed over to Jiang was prepared by the Coalition for Freedom and Human Rights in Asia. The text expressed concern about the state of Tibet, the Tiananmen Massacre and the threats to Taiwan. In three days it gained 411 signatures spanning the Harvard community--undergraduates, graduates, faculty and alumni. The petition was accepted by Vice President and General Counsel Anne Taylor on Oct. 31. Taylor however failed to hand it over to President Rudenstine; instead she sent it over to Deirdre Chetham, the executive director of the Fairbank Center!

Jiang could have left Harvard with a happy feeling that academic freedom Harvard-style is not much different from the totalitarian methods of the Chinese communist leadership.

We expect Harvard to promptly investigate all violations of academic standards and rules and to call the violators to responsibility. In particular, we question the conduct of:

* Vogel and the Fairbank Center for organizing a biased lottery, disseminating disinformation, silencing dissent, perpetrating discrimination on basis of nationality and putting personal ambition above academic standards;

* Epps: for deceiving the rally organizers, Iying, harassing protesters, avoiding contact with students, being complicit in the violation of rules published by the University prior to Jiang's visit;

* Taylor: for not forwarding the petition to President Rudenstine;

Riley and the HUPD: for avoiding dialogue with the rally organizers, breaking Harvard's rules about accessibility to Harvard Yard;

* Rudenstine: for silent complicity in the whole affair.

We suggest that the University prepare and publicize a clear protocol for dealing with future highly controversial, high-profile visitors invited in Harvard's name.

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